High Tech Customs Clearance at Japan Airports: Done in 10 seconds!

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  • In recent years, the increasing number of foreigners in Japan has required the Japanese government to take some measures to address the overcrowding at bus stops, train stations, airports, etc., in order to maintain the stable circulation of all public transportation. One of the most widespread measures is the announcements in several languages among which are English, Chinese, Korean etc. at places with a large number of foreigners. In most of the Japan airports with international routes, the language barrier has been eliminated thanks to a multi-lingual information system and an increasing number of multilingual staff.

    However, another problem that Japan has to cope with and it is one that has been increasing rapidly each year, is the immigration procedure at the Japanese airport. It is not difficult to see long lines of foreigners waiting for 15 to 30 minutes to be examined by customs officers and cleared for arrival or departure. Meanwhile, Japanese people have their own gates and usually finish the procedure more conveniently and quickly. To address this somehow-unfair insufficiency, the Japanese government has implemented and developed an electronic system that allows all passengers at the airport to carry out immigration procedures quickly, usually taking up to 10 seconds! How? Keep reading below.

    When arriving in Japan

     

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    Until now, when you want to pass the Japan customs at the airports, you have to declare information about your luggage on the yellow card called “CUSTOMS DECLARATION: Declaration of personal effects and Accompanied Articles”, usually given by a flight attendant before landing. You must make sure to complete and keep this piece of paper with you and submit it, together with your passport, to the customs officer at the airport gate. You have to wait for up to 30 minutes or more, especially at the peak travel seasons in Japan such as sakura blossom or the cent Rugby World Cup.

    To solve this nuisance, Japan has electronicized the customs declaration, allowing all passengers to use a mobile app called Japan Customs to fill in all information and then smoothly clear customs in just a few simple steps. The machines, called 電子申告ゲート (denshi shinkoku geto, ), are located at many of Japan’s major airports and will be applied nationwide by 2020.

    Eligible passengers

    All passengers entering Japan, including Japanese nationals, mid-to-long-term resident foreigners in Japan and travelers for holiday or business to Japan etc are eligible.  For people of Western countries traveling to Japan on a holiday or business trip, there is a separate system operated, but we will explain it at the end of this article.

    How to use

    1. Download the Japan Customs app, in iOS or Android
    2. Fill in your personal information and customs declaration to create a QR code
    3. Use the QR code with your passport at the 電子申告ゲート
    4. Get your luggage and go through the customs clearance gate exclusively for passengers who declare electronically

    Note:

    • For people traveling in groups such as a family – each member must do electronic customs procedures individually and go through the customs gate one by one.
    • Children taller than 135 cm can use this electronic system.
    • When passing by, the machine will capture your face, so be sure to remove your glasses, mask, hat, and tidy up your hair.

    Pros

    • Fast and convenient, no need to wait in line for a long time
    • In addition to Japanese, there are more languages ​​such as English, Chinese, Korean, etc.

    Cons

    • You will not receive entry stamps on your passport. Except for some of the reasons stated here , it will cost you 300 yen if you want to receive the stamp.
    • Currently, the system is available at Haneda Airport, Terminal 3 of Narita Airport, Kansai Airport, Fukuoka Airport, and will deploy from November 2019 to early next year at the remaining airports such as New Chitose, Nagoya Centrair, Naha etc.
    Foreigners departing and re-entering Japan

    Normally, foreigners living in Japan who want to leave for business trips or travel abroad or leave temporarily and will return to Japan, need to fill in an application form called “Embarkation card for reentrant” before going through customs to board on a plane and leave Japan temporarily. Half of the form will be attached to the passport by stapler and if lost, you may have trouble re-entering Japan.

    The Japanese government has implemented the 自動化ゲート(jidoka geto, automated gates) that allows foreign residents in Japan to temporarily leave and re-enter Japan quickly with just a few operations on the scanning port. This system has been implemented since 2012 but few people know it, even though it only asks for a a one-time registration during the residence period of foreigners in Japan (the validity is as same as the validity of the residence card).

    Eligible passengers

    Foreigners residing in Japan with a valid residence card until their re-entry into Japan, and must return to Japan within one year from the date of leaving. After one year, the foreigner cannot enter even if his residence card is still valid. The airport staff usually recommend this system when the alien card is valid for at least 3 months more, because the expiration of the card also means that you have to do this again when a new alien card is available.

    How to use

    1. After going through the scan of hand luggage and belongings, you will go to the customs area to exit. Please find the automatic door, usually at the outer end of the area. You can ask airport staff.
    2. Fill in your personal information into the form provided. You can refer to the form here
    3. Submit the application form and wait for the staff to complete the registration process. It should take about 15 minutes.
    4.  When registration is completed, you can use the automated gates from that day forward. Just simply go through exclusive 自動化 ゲ ー ト  every time you temporarily leave Japan

    Pros

    • Fast and convenient, no need to wait in line for long time
    • No worries about losing your embarkation card and having trouble on re-entry into Japan

    Cons

    • Every time you renew your residence card, you must reapply at the airport
    • The time for automatic door registration at the airport is limited. Google the airport name together with the key word “automated gate”. If you fly late at night or early in the morning it’s difficult to register. On the other hand, if you have already registered, use the automatic door as usual because the door is available 24 hours a day.
    Trusted Traveler Program


    By certifying the reliability of foreigners who travel to Japan on a tourist or short-term business visa less than 90 days, the Trusted Traveler Program allows them to shorten the time for customs inspection. The frequency of regular visits to Japan is set to 2 or more per year.

    As above, those who are believed by Japan to be trusted travelers will be allowed to pass through automatic scanning gates quickly on exit or entry without going through fingerprint scanning or facial recognition.

    A disadvantage of this program is that you have to register online, and then follow the Immigration Department to receive a card called 登録 カ ー ド (Registered User Card). The validity of the card is the same as that of your passport, but if you come to Japan less than 2 times a year, the card will automatically expire. When entering and exiting Japan at the airport, if you lose your card, you will not be recognized as a Trusted Traveler and must go through the procedures as a normal passenger.

    In addition, the Trusted Traveler Program is only available to citizens of developed countries as on this list

    Conclusion

    Japan is trying to turn itself into a tourism-oriented country, so the above mentioned electronic system is hoped to speed up immigration procedures, in order to effectively reduce the overload at airports, which is the reason why passengers get annoyed and customs officers get tired. If you are going to Japan or currently are in Japan, try this and share your experience!